Top phone scams and how to avoid them

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This mobile phone that you carry in your pocket gives you quick access to a galaxy of information and entertainment. Oh, you can also make calls and text!

But with all the perks, phones are also a convenient way for crooks, schemers, and thieves to easily reach you – and potentially rip you off. So, while you are tapping, you should also be careful not to be the next victim of a thief.

Some phone scams are as old as the crime itself, while others are concocted to take advantage of the latest news. Scammers take advantage of our emotions – fear in some cases; greed in others. Some call in person; others use robocalls.

But in any case, almost all phone thieves are looking for your money or personal information so that they can steal your identity.

It pays to stay on top of the latest dirty phone tricks and know how to avoid them. Here are some of the top scams today, as reported by the Federal Trade Commission and other experts.

COVID-19 scams

The pandemic has spawned a new generation of scams. Some scammers offer to sign up to get vaccinated or take tests over the phone to get your personal information. Others say they’ll help you get your government stimulus or unemployment checks – for a fee. Still others pretend to be loved ones or the military who say they are sick and ask you to wire them money. Fake COVID-related charities are also emerging.

Threats

Scammers call pretending to be a police officer, IRS agent, or bank official and say you owe money. Often the caller threatens you with arrest, jail or deportation if you don’t comply.

Surveys

Someone calls pretending to be a political pollster or Census Bureau employee, then starts asking for your personal information.

‘You have won!’

A caller tells you you’ve won the lottery, vacation, or other valuable item, then asks you to pay a fee or provide your bank account number.

Financial offers

Scammers offer to help you get out of your credit card debt or student loan obligations, or lend you money even if you have bad credit, or help you make money on an investment – if you just pay an upfront fee.


Fake charities

Calls from people seeking money for bogus disaster relief programs are particularly common.

“Grandma, I’m in trouble! “

In a program typically targeting the elderly, a person claiming to be a grandchild or other loved one calls, says they are in distress, and asks for money – “And please don’t tell mom and dad!”

So how can you beat scam calls like these? Here are some ways to help you avoid most attempted thefts over the phone.

  • Never give a caller you don’t know your personal information, such as your social security, credit card, or bank account numbers, or usernames and passwords.
  • Don’t send money to a stranger over the phone, including wire transfer, prepaid card, or paying through a money transfer app, which scammers love because it’s hard for you to get your money back.
  • List your phone number on the National FTC Do Not Call Register, either online at donotcall.gov or by calling (888) 382-1222. Honest telemarketers you’ve never done business with before aren’t supposed to call you after that; those who call may be crooks. (The ledger does not block certain types of calls, such as those from charities, debt collectors, and investigators.)
  • Don’t feel pressured to do what the caller asks immediately. Take the time to research what is being offered and check out the organization offering it. If a caller presses you for an immediate response, say no.
  • If you get a call from someone claiming to represent a charity, hang up and check if the group is legitimate through Charity Navigator, CharityWatch, or the BBB Wise Giving Alliance before making a donation.
  • If an automated call asks you to press a number on your phone, don’t. This could lead to more calls.
  • If a call is suspicious, hang up.
  • Some experts advise against answering calls from an unknown number. If it’s important and legitimate, the caller will leave a message on your voicemail, which many scammers won’t. But make sure you have all the essential numbers – such as parents, kids, doctors – entered in your phone’s contact list.
  • Don’t always believe your caller ID. Scammers can use “identity theft” technology to trick your phone into believing that you are receiving a call from the government or other legitimate source.

If you’ve lost money in a phone scam, report it to the FTC online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or by calling (877) 382-4357. You should also contact your national consumer protection office. If someone scams you, call the police.

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